Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lenten Journey: Week 1 - Esquelino

My Lenten Journey has brought me to a “gritty” neighborhood on the Esquiline Hill, the largest of the seven hills of Ancient Rome. In Imperial times this part of the hill was used for dumping garbage and burial pits for the poor. On the opposite side of the hill, the Emperor Nero built his Domus Aurea, the Golden House. When I tried to find out the origin of the name of the hill, I discovered that in the early years of Rome the Capitol, Palitine and Caelian hills were the most populated areas of the city and the inhabitants were called “inquilini, in-towners”. People who lived in the external regions of the city were called “exquilini, suburbanites”.

My destination was the church of Santa Bibiana. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was 23 years old and living in this neighborhood when Pope Urban VIII gave him his first commission, the reconstruction of the 5th century church on this site.
I was not sure that I would find the church open as I approached it. The structure is marooned between the tracks of Stazione Termini and two tram tracks and the side is covered with graffiti. I had to stop and filter out the distractions of the neighborhood to appreciate the beauty of the façade. Three elegant arches provide entry into the portico, and dignified columns and three windows define the second level. All of this is surmounted by a pediment and cross making almost a thirst level above the central arch and front door to the church. The church was open, but when I entered I had to stop again and filter out distractions. The interior is cluttered with many objects of pious devotion.
A statue of Padre Pio resides in a chapel opposite a chapel
with a statue of the Blessed Mother and her halo of stars.
There were many other statues and candle stands scattered around the interior. However, this 75 seat church seems to be home to an active Christian community. While I was in the church people were coming in to prepare for a time of Eucharist adoration. The bulletin board gave evidence to a wide range of events for growing in faith. (This week’s schedule includes community prayer times as well as catechetical instruction for children and adults.)
The main altar and statue of Santa Bibiana are by Bernini. (The bodies of St Bibiana, her mother Dafrosa and her sister Demetria where discovered inside a 3rd century sarcophagus, and now rest inside an urn under the altar.)
The antique columns of the nave were taken from different ancient monuments when the 5th century church was built. Above the nave are 17th century frescoes showing the life and death (4th century) of Bibiana by the Florentine painter Agostino Ciampelli and Piero da Cortona.
There is a plaque under the portico that memorializes thousands of bodies that were found on the site during various excavations, evidence that this side of the Esqueline Hill was, in fact, a burial ground.

The Sunday Gospel this week is Luke's account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The devil tried to distract Jesus with three different situations to prevent him from fulfilling his mission. Things around me often get me distracted from what I am supposed to do. Just as I had to stop and filter out distractions to see the wonderful things in the Church of Santa Bibiana, I need to continually remind myself to stop and filter out the many distractions that interrupt my ability to appreciate the goodness of God and to experience the full joy of human life.

Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be
tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted
by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of
each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

from The Book of Common Prayer

1 comment:

Harriet said...

Apathy was the topic of the sermon I heard today. And it's the busyness of our lives and everything in our view that distracts us from bringing and sharing God's love to those in need. Reminds me of a book title - Driven by Distraction.